Good Work Does Go Noticed

Congratulations to Sarah Read, assistant professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse, for the award she recently received for a paper she delivered at a professional technical communication conference at the University of Texas in Austin. The James M. Lufkin Award for Best International Professional Communication Conference Paper is given annually by the IEEE Professional Communication Society in recognition of work that supports their mission to promote effective communication within scientific, engineering and technical environments.

In the paper, Sarah and her co-author and fellow award-winner Michael E. Papka propose a more comreadaward_0001prehensive model of the document cycling process to capture significant activities not normally found in conventional project management plans. The paper emerged from an ethnographic study she conducted as a guest faculty researcher at Argonne National Laboratory where she analyzed the technical documentation and reporting processes that went into creating the facility’s 2014 annual report.

Operated by The University of Chicago Argonne LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy, the research lab and its high-powered supercomputer are used by scientists from academia and industry. Each year it produces a lengthy, polished report for the funder, “an extended statement about how the facility has met or exceeded the performance metrics set by the funder based on the previous review process,” as explained in the paper.

Sarah’s interviews with staff and her observations of the lab’s operations revealed hidden activities involved in gathering and generating data that indirectly fed into the annual report. This data-gathering had become incorporated into regular operational activities and fell outside the designated time frames for generating reportable information. These submerged activities not only informed the report but constituted a creative endeavor in their own right. (See a previous SSRC blog about Sarah’s project in which she vividly described the efforts demanded of staff in learning how to “write down the machine.”)

They did not arise sui generis. Papka, a senior scientist at Argonne, is the director of the Leadership Computing Center and an associate professor of computer science at Northern Illinois University. In 2012 he revised the annual report document creation process “from an annual last-minute all-out effort to a well-managed, well-paced drafting and revision process,” according to the paper. Reporting became on-going, rotating and cut across multiple divisions of the facility. Crucially, it entailed the development of processes “to more efficiently and accurately generate” reportable performance data.

The success of those efforts leads the paper’s authors to raise some provocative questions, including whether the staff time and effort required to write an annual report—a full-color, printed and designed document totaling 126 pages in 2014—is warranted when reportable information becomes readily accessible and available. “It is interesting to reflect upon how the imperative to develop a more accurate and efficient annual operational assessment reporting process ended up building processes at the facility…that could make the annually produced report unnecessary,” they point out. And they ask teachers and students of professional and technical writing to recognize and understand that the means of producing reportable information for the periodic reports so common to large organizations “have as much if not more value for the organization than the finished reporting document.”

The SSRC likes to think that our own support of Sarah’s research contributed to this project, from her use of ATLAS.ti, the qualitative data analysis application available in our computer lab, to analyze her data, to her ongoing participation in the SSRC’s Accountability Group in which tenure-track LAS faculty meet twice a month to set and discuss self-imposed professional and research goals. She worked on the paper during spring break at the off-campus faculty research retreat in Wisconsin that the SSRC organized to offer faculty designated writing time away from usual distractions. Sarah plans to develop the epistemic dimensions of the model in another paper.


SSRC Solicits Applications for the Second Annual Academic Research Retreat

One of the missions of the Social Science Research Center is to facilitate and support faculty research.  To this end, the SSRC is hosting a faculty research retreat in Kenosha, WI during Spring Break March 20-23, 2017.  During this time, selected faculty will participate in two and a half days of intensive research time.

The retreat will take place in a rental property large enough to accommodate 3-5 researchers for three nights.  The retreat events will be organized by a facilitator, who will organize the retreat and conduct accountability sessions.  Attendees will be responsible for their own meals and for securing transportation for themselves to the retreat location.

Applications are due by 5pm Monday February 27, 2017 and should be emailed to Jessi Bishop-Royse at  In 2-3 pages, potential applicants should indicate the name of their project, its current status, and what they intend to complete during the retreat.  The competitive review process will favor established research projects over those that need more development.

Last year, participants from Sociology,  Public Health, The School for New Learning, and Writing, Reading, and Discourse attended the retreat.  Generally, participants appreciated the opportunity to network with faculty from other departments.  On average, participants completed about 90% of planned research tasks.  Two of the four participants submitted manuscripts for publication within one month of the retreat.  Additionally, the manuscript that participant Sarah Read completed during the retreat was recognized for the James M. Lufkin Award for Best International Professional Communication Conference Paper.

Tentative Schedule

Monday 3/20

6pm-8pm Check in and Welcome Chat, Dinner +Evening Accountability Meeting

8-10pm Writing Session

Tuesday 3/21

8am-9am: Morning Accountability Meeting/Breakfast

9-Noon: Morning Writing Session

Noon-1pm: Afternoon Break

1pm-4pm: Afternoon Writing Session

4pm-7pm: Evening break.

7pm-9pm: Evening Writing Session

Wednesday 3/22

8am-9am: Morning Accountability Meeting/Breakfast

9-Noon: Morning Writing Session

Noon-1pm: Afternoon Break

1pm-4pm: Afternoon Writing Session

4pm-7pm: Evening break.

7pm-9pm: Evening Writing Session

Thursday 3/23

8am-9am: Morning Accountability Meeting/Breakfast

9-11: Morning Writing Session

11-12: Evaulation +Check Out

Questions should be directed to Jessica Bishop-Royse by email (

Google’s NGram viewer

This is probably old hat to everyone- but I recently discovered Google’s NGram Viewer, which can compile a line graph of specific words published in books on a timeline.

You could graph specific words against each other, like comparing medicine, public health, and demography against each other.  Even cooler is that you can specify specific datapoints, say 1800-2016.  Or, 1800-1900.

demography ph and medicine

It is a pretty elegant feature, it can show how our understand of subject areas have changed over time.

men women

It’s simplicity could be useful for people wanting to generate simple and elegant figures for presentations and classes, etc.

Field Learning

Newly graduated Master of Public Health (MPH) students Adenike Sosina and Joselyn Williams recently talked about the extra-curricular skills they acquired as research assistants at the Center for Community Health Equity (CCHE). Their analysis of one project will be displayed at the 9th annual Health Disparities & Social Justice Conference that CCHE and MPH will host at the DePaul Center on August 12.

In a conference poster, they will summarize the focus group discussions that CCHE helped Rush conduct in conjunction with Rush Medical Center’s comprehensive Community Health Needs Assessment. The focus groups were made up of residents and stakeholders from the 8 Chicago West Side community areas (West Town, Austin, East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park, Near West Side, North Lawndale, South Lawndale, and Lower West Side) and 3 near west suburbs (Forest Park, Oak Park, and River Forest) that Rush serves. They were formed to discover what Adenike described as “the impact of the communities’ perceptions, their needs, things they believed to be beneficial.” That should help Rush understand what makes a good community and what relationships community members value, Joselyn added.

The two researchers began working at CCHE and with CCHE Co-Director and Associate Professor of Sociology Fernando De Maio in 2015—Adenike as CCHE Program Assistant and Joselyn as CCHE Graduate Assistant. Founded jointly in 2015 and based at DePaul, CCHE is a partnership between DPU and Rush designed to link social scientists, students, community groups, and health care professionals in a search for data-based solutions to community health problems.

Last fall and winter Adenike and Joselyn collaborated with CCHE on the assessment report Rush prepares every three years to evaluate the overall state of health in its service areas and to develop internal implementation strategies and community collaAdenikeborations. Using NVivo software, they later analyzed 11 “massive” focus group transcripts—also prepared by a number of DePaul and Rush students—to identify recurring themes such as resources, education, socialization, social division, health care, safety, responsibility, and ownership, Adenike said.

“The software itself served as a resource,” said Joselyn, a self-describJoselyned ‘data nerd’. “[It’s] kind of intuitive. There’s not a lot of bulky things you have to have previous help with.” The researchers also utilized SSRC technical and consulting resources, for transcribing the focus group discussions and for training in GIS and mapping fundamentals. The poster will illustrate the findings of their analysis.

“There was an array of other concerns, besides health, in which they wanted their voices to be heard,” said Adenike. She was impressed by the range of what focus group participants wanted to convey. Across communities, focus groups cited the lack of resources, including insufficient recreational outlets for youth, job opportunities, access to retail and good food, and inadequacies in the city’s educational system.

“…It’s like we’re almost a forgotten community…,” a member of the North Lawndale focus group complained. “And if we could just get a lot of these young guys some work and young women and young men to work, it will be a big change in the community,” a West Garfield Park participant offered.

In conversations about what they liked about their communities, participants voiced “probably a lot more positive thoughts around social cohesion,” Joselyn observed. “Most identified with their community,” she said. “I didn’t feel like anyone said ‘this is per se a bad community.’ They recognized the good and the bad. They wanted the community to be better.” Discussions about how Rush might partner with the community produced suggestions for collaborating with schools, operating mobile clinics to provide services such as back-to-school vaccinations, or pairing medical school students with community teens around health issues and mentoring, Adenike noted.

Both MPH graduates agreed that their work at CCHE leaves them feeling better prepared as they start their own careers. Joselyn, who made some GIS maps for the assessment to show where Rush ranked in child opportunity and hardship indices, appreciated the opportunity to work alongside hospital administrators and to observe how a big organization undertakes a report of this scope. She was struck by the length of the assessment process.

This fall Joselyn will begin teaching English to elementary students in the Gyeongbuk province in South Korea. From there she hopes to explore opportunities for a career abroad in global health. Adenike wants to work in community health practice after her position at CCHE ends in late summer. She’s especially interested in childhood obesity interventions.

At CCHE, graduate and undergraduate student researchers will continue to gain project-based experience working on analyses of the new Healthy Chicago Survey, the creation of an “Index of Concentration at the Extremes” for Chicago census tracts, and comparative analyses of health inequities in Chicago and other cities. DePaul faculty and students will continue collaborating with the Chicago Department of Public Health and other groups across the city as they build on CCHE’s contribution to “Healthy Chicago 2.0”, the city’s four-year initiative to assess and improve health and well-being and reduce inequities among Chicago communities.

Visit CCHE’s website to see the Rush Community Health Needs Assessment report and to learn more about the upcoming Health Disparities & Social Justice Conference at DePaul. Faculty or students doing research on faculty projects who want to access NVivo are invited to contact the SSRC where the program is available in our Lincoln Park computer lab or through remote connection.

American Life Panel

I had the great fortune to attend the annual meeting of the Population Association of America last week.  I first attended when it was in New York City, and was sort of intimidated by it- in terms  of heavy hitters in demographic and population health research, they are all there.  The men and women whose work shaped the foundations of most demography students’ understandings of the world go to PAA: Sam Preston was on the program.  The guy that LITERALLY wrote the book on life table analysis.

I have come to appreciate the depth of the sessions offered.  As a demographer and health researcher, I love the fact that at any time, there are multiple sessions where I might find something of interest or useful to me.  This is different than the annual Sociology meetings, where the demography and population health sessions are all held on one day- leaving the demographers either very bored or with a lot of extra time on their hands because many of the sessions are outside of population and health.

Yes, I am aw4835996128_60a1075127_oare that this might make me a bad sociologist.

That said, I wandered into the Rand American Life Panel exhibition.  “What?  Excuse me, what?”  You ask.

Well- let me tell you.

RAND has a standing, nationally representative, probability-sampled panel of respondents that can be deployed for survey research.  It started in 2003 with a five year grant from NIA to study methodological issues of internet interviewing among older populations.  It has expanded from 800 panel members over the age of 40 to over 6000 participants, aged 18 and older.  This in and of itself is pretty nifty.  But it also includes a vulnerable population cohort (individuals recruited and incentivized from zip code area with high percentages of Hispanics or low-income individuals).

This is cool for primary data collection efforts.  Let’s say you get some $$ and want to do a survey research project.  But maybe you don’t have the infrastructure or support to have a massive data collection effort.  RAND might be a decent avenue for you to get responses to your survey.

But, even cooler, is their data repository.  After initial embargoes on it, the data go into a database that can be used *for free* by researchers.   The topics are fairly diverse, including life satisfaction, social security and health,  presidential polling, health literacy, etc.  It’s brilliant.

From a demographic/health perspective, some of the more interesting datasets are on Longevity,  Breast Cancer, Long Term Care Insurance, and Health Expectations.

Very cool, indeed.

How Sarah Read Works


Location:  DePaul University (or Starbucks, where I am right now?)
Current Gig:  Assistant Professor, Writing, Rhetoric & Discourse
One word that best describes how you work:  Interval training
Current mobile device: Iphone 4S
Current computer: MacBook Air

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? My At-A-Glance paper planner (without it I am a useless woman) and Dropbox, which means I can move seamlessly between work and home and the coffeeshop.

What’s your workspace setup like: Minimalist and open. I use a fully adjustable computer desk. I’m a short, small person, so conventional desks are just too big.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack? Do you automate something that used to be a time sink? Do you relegate email to an hour a day? Back when I ran track and cross-country in high school and college my greatest strength was pacing. I wasn’t the fasted member of the team, but I always ran my intervals during practice at a consistent rate; i.e., I didn’t tire myself out on the first few and then die through the last ones. This is my approach to research projects and writing. Small chunks. Over time at the same rate. The down side of this strategy, however, is that I don’t accelerate very well. In a nutshell, I don’t do all-nighters.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager? Good ol’ fashioned At-A-Glance monthly paper planner. I am very visual person and I like to see my whole month at once. I also find it that takes less time/thought/energy to enter a few cryptic notes with a few scribbles of my pen.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why? Do I need to mention the almighty At-A-Glance planner again? Seriously, without it I am a woman without a plan or a life.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?Tracking the family to-do list and the contents of the fridge (which I can recite from memory at any given time). It drives my husband crazy. My secret? Well, my theory is that girls are trained to pay attention to things like the contents of the fridge (to plan the shopping list), the location of items (clutter clean-up) in the house, and the chores that need to be done (no one else will do them) by just observing what their mothers’ paid attention to as they grew up. My parents had a traditional division of labor at home, and this is how it imprinted on me, whether I like it or not.

What do you listen to while you work? Mostly the chatter of my own mind. However, if I am grading or doing administrative tasks I listen to WFUV FM (public radio from Fordham University in New York City—new alternative/folk/rock music) via the web.

What do you do to stay inspired? Who are some of your favorite artists?  Right now I am educating myself about contemporary dance choreography by attending all of the amazing contemporary dance company performances in Chicago. I am a particular fan of Hubbard Street Dance Company, a truly world-class dance company born right here in Chicago—their creative and interesting choreography and world class technique blow me away. As a language person, I am enjoying learning about the language of dance and how to join the conversation about it.

What sort of work are you up to now? Right now I am finishing up ethnographic field work about technical documentation and reporting processes at a supercomputing research facility int the Chicago area. I am starting to work on my book project, Writing Infrastructure.

What are you currently reading? Pride and Prejudice (By Jane Austen), the graphic novel (not by Jane Austen)

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? Maybe both?  Total introvert, although I have to come out of my cave sometimes in order to maintain my sanity. Teaching is good for that.

What’s your sleep routine like? Totally regular. Sleep by 11pm. Up at 6:45.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see__________ answer these same questions. Woodstock.  

Why? Sorry, I only have goofy answers to this question.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Wow—this is the toughest question. I couldn’t tell you the source of this advice, but for me an essential insight has been to have the courage to believe that my ideas, my writing, my work has value and to put it out there in the conversation. It is an act of courage to declare oneself a writer (an academic writer, creative writer, etc.) and to just start doing it. I feel like I have to be courageous in this way almost every day. Writers, of all kinds, are incredibly courageous people.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans? Thanks for asking these questions. And thanks for reading.

The How I Work series featured on the re/search blog is shamelessly stolen from Life Hacker’s How I Work series.  The SSRC’s version asks DePaul’s heroes, experts, and individuals of note to share their shortcuts, workspaces, routines, and more. Have someone you want to see featured, or questions you think we should ask? Email Jessi Bishop-Royse at jbishopr AT

NVivo 10: First Steps

Pretty regularly, I am asked to do NVivo trainings.  Remember, that NVivo is a qualitative analysis software package.  Often, requests are by faculty who are thinking about adding a qualitative component to their research or maybe they are thinking about doing a qualitative research project.  Sometimes faculty requests are rather specific (they might need some specific help with a type of coding or such), but for the most part, a lot of people just need help getting off the ground with NVivo.

The Basics:

QSR International offers a free two week trial of NVivo.  A license for an Individual Starter Pack will set you back $700, while a 2-year license for the Pro license is $710.  There is a fundamentals course that can be added on for $100.

This is all well and good.  But the best part is that QSR International has a Youtube Channel with 21 “how-to” videos to get up and running.  The hits:

Importing PDFs in NVivo 10 in 1 minute:

Creating codes (read: nodes) in NVivo 10 in 2 minutes:

Creating a word frequency query in NVivo 10 in 4 minutes:

Actually pretty great.